COUGARS are winding up for a big opening day clash with Halfiax when the Arriva Tains Cup gets underway next weekend -- and could spring a major surprise.

Halifax, who were relegated from Super League last season, have been installed as favourites to win the cup and bounce straight back to the top flight, but the Keighley players are planning to ambush 'Fax before they get up and running.

"Motivation certainly won't be a problem for us, there is plenty of history between our lads and Halifax," said coach Gary Moorby.

Moorby himself was coach of the Under-21 side at Halifax with Paul Moses a former player.

The current squad is also packed with former members of the Halifax Club, including Danny Ekis, Richard Merville, David Foster, Matty Firth, James Rushforth and Simeon Hoyle who came to Keighley from Halifax amateur side Siddall.

"The lads are certainly looking forward to the game and are relishing the opportunity to show what they can do at a higher level," Moorby said.

Halifax have had two pre-season games, battling out a close encounter with Huddersfield before a reasonably full senior squad was beaten by Batley last weekend.

"I decided to follow the pattern which worked well for us last season and work without any pre-season games. The season ahead is so long that we don't want to put any extra pressure on our players, and we certainly didn't want to risk picking up any niggling injuries.

"The period available for pre-season training is so short that we wanted to put all our emphasis on getting things right in the gym and on the training ground," he said.

Fitness coach Paul Royston has been putting the players through a gruellingprogramme of weight training to prepare them for the step up to National League One level. The emphasis throughout most of the closed season has been on building up extra strength and muscle power.

"Once again our main aim is to perform well in the league and we want to be firing on all cylinders when the league campaign starts at Easter. That doesn't mean we aren't taking the cup competition seriously, but we have to look at the season as a whole."

The coach also expects to see many of his young players really show their ability as they develop in the higher division. Matty Firth, Richard Merville and Lee Patterson grew in confidence throughout last season and looked prepared for the step up as they secured promotion at the end of last season.

"I expect a lot of players to really come of age this season. They grew in confidence throughout the last campaign and are keen to get back into action," Moorby said.

n The Cougars Challenge Cup clash with Dudley Hill Rangers on February 8 has been switched to Cougar Park.

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